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(New York) – Leaders at the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) Summit should press Thailand’s junta leader to improve human rights and restore democratic civilian rule, Human Rights Watch said today in letters to ASEM foreign ministers. ASEM is an informal process that brings together the 28 European Union member states and 2 other European countries with 20 Asian countries.

Thai Prime Minister Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha is scheduled to attend the 10th ASEM Summit in Milan, Italy on October 16-17, 2014. This year’s ASEM Summit aims to promote cooperative efforts by Asia and Europe to address major challenges, including promotion and protection of human rights.

“General Prayuth should leave Milan with a clear message that Europe’s leaders don’t accept continued military rule in Thailand,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “The Thai junta should understand that there will be no return to business as usual until Thailand returns to democratic civilian rule through free and fair elections.”

Thailand’s government needs to immediately address a range of pressing human rights issues, Human Rights Watch said. In the more than four months since the May 22, 2014 military coup, the ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) has made no genuine progress toward restoring democratic rule. As both junta leader and prime minister, General Prayuth wields broad powers without any judicial or other oversight. The interim constitution and the draconian Martial Law of 1914 permit the junta members to commit human rights violations with immunity. Key constitutional bodies set up by the NCPO, such as the National Legislative Assembly and the National Reform Council, are stacked with military personnel and other junta loyalists.

The junta has severely repressed fundamental rights and freedoms, essential for the restoration of democratic rule. The NCPO has enforced censorship and ordered media not to criticize the military. More than 200 websites – including Human Rights Watch’s Thailand page – have been blocked by the junta as threats to national security. The NCPO has banned public gatherings of more than five people and prohibits anti-coup activities. Protesters who have expressed disagreement with the junta have been arrested and sent to military courts, where they face up to two years in prison. Deeming political discussions and diverse political opinions as a threat to stability and national security, the NCPO has extended its grip into universities and banned discussions about human rights, democracy, and the performance of the Prayuth administration.

“Thailand is in the grip of a major crackdown on freedom of expression, association, and public assembly that shows no sign of ending,” Adams said. “Pressure from European governments and other key trading partners is needed now to bring a speedy return to democratic rule.”

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